Teaching in Japan: A mutually beneficial experience

Ritsumeikan University
Ritsumeikan University

Dr Rochelle Bailey spent a semester teaching an ANU Pacific Studies course at Ritsumeikan University in Japan, as part of the joint dual degree program between RU and ANU. Here she reflects on the cultural and personal aspects of her experience. 


I am incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to teach our ANU Pacific Studies courses at the Ritsumeikan OIC campus in Japan. I live in the beautiful city of Kyoto and commute daily to the Osaka campus. I arrived in Japan a few weeks earlier than the semester as I wished to attend the graduation of the previous cohort. The experience of attending the Ritsumeikan graduation was truly remarkable, with graduands adorned in traditional attire, in their Kimonos, with perfect hair and make-up. The men were in smart suits, and the attention to their appearance was like those of the female graduands. Our Global Liberal Arts (GLA) graduands were invited to wear their ANU gowns when we moved locations to receive their diplomas.

A graduation ceremony at Ritsumeikan offers a unique cultural experience that I am sure would intrigue and interest you all. Two of my previous students who graduated in Japan in 2022 attended the ceremony. I taught my Pacific third-year course to these students online in 2022, so it was nice to meet them in person. Graduation was one of the favourite highlights of my visit, and it was far from my experiences at other universities. It was personal and inclusive of all students, academics and loved ones, and included a social event at the end.

Compared to my teaching experience at ANU, the larger class sizes at Ritsumeikan have been accompanied by a genuine eagerness among students to learn and attend. My office hours are well-attended, and students are excited about their pending assessments. The commitment and interest displayed by students in their research and studies have been impressive, reflecting positively on the academic and collegial environment at Ritsumeikan.

The GLA students' study area is located near our offices, and I enjoy walking past the buzz of the groups (sounding like they are working) and the general sense of collaboration between students – it has been wonderful to observe. I have been genuinely impressed with the research, and dedication students here put into their work. 

To ensure that our Pacific courses are appropriate to students here, we have ensured that the Japan/Pacific connection is relevant to students. Though our students come from many places across the globe, they are also finding connections to the Pacific region. My third-year students have all mentioned that until now they did not know much about Japan's connections and importance in the Pacific. So far, the feedback has been positive, and often given in gifts of food. Regarding the local cuisine, I will be returning to Australia much heavier as the food here in Japan is simply amazing! 

The cultural differences and the respect for traditions observed at Ritsumeikan have been particularly noteworthy, prompting a personal desire to explore the history and culture of Japan further. For example, when passing others walking down the corridors, we all bow and acknowledge each other. This is a stark difference from my experience at ANU, and something I respect. 

I, too, have a connection to Japan as my Dad's Aunt moved from Japan to Aotearoa in the late 1940s. My great-aunt migrated from the Yamaguchi prefecture. She tried to teach me Japanese when I was a teenager, and I now deeply regret not fully embracing that opportunity. So, one mission while here was to visit the regions of Sasebo and Hiroshima, where she spent her time before migrating to Aotearoa.

Although I learned some basic Japanese before I arrived, I only know enough to get by. More intensive learning would have helped me learn more about Japan's history and culture and enabled me to have deeper interactions with others. In terms of traveling to work and around the country on my weekends off, the transportation system here is outstanding and Google maps has been invaluable. 

The intensive teaching schedule, with all classes and tutorials on Mondays and Tuesdays, has been balanced by enriching weekend exploration and travel experiences. Experiencing the diversity of various places in Japan has been educational and at times inspirational in terms of my research.

Overall, my time at Ritsumeikan has been filled with valuable cultural insights and academic engagement, which have cultivated a deep appreciation for the institution and its students.

Japan is a beautiful country, and, in many respects, it reminds me of home in Aotearoa. The people are kind and very respectful. It is a combination of all of these, and I say this as a migration scholar, that have contributed to one of the best temporary migration experiences that I have ever had.

Dr Rochelle Bailey joined the Department of Pacific Affairs as a Research Fellow to work on labour migration issues. Rochelle has worked on politics, intergovernmental relationships, regionalism, economics, social change, and migration issues in the Pacific since 2004.